This is one of the most common questions we get from customers about knitted garments. It all has to do with how the fabric is created on the knitting machine.
There are 2 major types of knitting machines - Circular and Flatbed. Sometimes it is easier to think of the difference as Tee shirt knitting [Circular] and Sweater knitting [ Flatbed ]
Circular, as the name infers, is knitting in the round. Here the yarn fed directly [up to 32 separate yarns] into the needle bed that spins around in one direction and creates a tube on fabric through the centre. The knitting action is very gentle, however because the knitting is spinning in one direction, there is a chance of ‘spirality’ occurring in the knitted tube. This is when a slight twist that can develop in the actual fabric construction during the knitting. It becomes a problem when the fabric is laid up and cut, causing the garments being ‘off grain’. The usual cause of spirality is cheaper ‘single twist’ yarn which is unbalanced.
Standard circular knitting machines are able to produce very fine structures due to the gentle nature of the knitting process, and have high output capacity. But they are limited to the size of the machine diameter and so have very limited flexibility. The majority of circular fabrics are used for Cut & Sew garments.
Flat Bed Knitting
Again as the name infers, flat bed are horizontal needle beds where the yarn is moved across the vee shaped needle bed within feeders. Flatbed machines have much lower output than Circular machines and are best suited to fully fashioned garments.
There are 2 types of global flatbed production, Handflat machines and Computer Jacquard machines.
Handflat machines are still widely used in developing regions such as Bangladesh, Vietnam and western China. The machines are rudimentary and just require a source of cheap labour to produce basic garments.
The operator hold 2 handles and moves the carriage across the needle bed according to the needles they must select to match the knitting chart/pattern. It is the same concept as a domestic knitting machine.
Benefits: low cost investment in plant and machinary, very cost effective for coarse gauge knitting and simple stripe knitting, and factory layout can be quickly re-arranged according to the customers’ demands.
Drawbacks: are many – single yarn knitting at one time, potential uneven knit quality due to operator skill, limited design flexibility such as jacquard due to the difficulty to move the carriage, a supply of low cost laborers are required due to tiring work, large run MOQs so as to manage operator skill differences and output. For these reasons, we do not use hand flat machines at Elegant.
Computer Jacquard knitting machines used at Elegant
Motorised jacquard knitting machines have been available since 1940s, but with the development of computer technology in the 1970s, knitting technology development really bloomed in the 1980s. This allowed 3 Way knit technique – Knit-Tuck-Miss possible in one traverse of the carriage, which meant infinite design possibilities. Knitwear designers were able to really push the boundaries
The number of yarns able to be knitted on a computer machine at a single point in time is set by the available knitting systems. Globally, 2 system machines are the most popular type. This means at any point in time, a 2 system machine can knit 2 colours on the one needle anywhere across the width of the needle bed. At Elegant we have 2, 3, 4, and 6 system knitting machines for maximum flexibility.
The number of systems should not be confused with the number of colours possible within a garment. Our machines can introduce up to 32 different colours into a garment, which allow us to produce multi coloured and 3 dimensional knits.
Benefits: incredible flexibility of design. Quick response, lower MOQs and production set up times,resulting in higher efficiencies.
Drawbacks: very expensive investment and maintenance, high training costs of operators, inability to reconfigure factory easily, low output when compared to a circular machine.
Although the investment is considerable, the higher quality and increased employee skill development allows Elegant to train more women into the operator positions. This has a great impact on creating job opportunities for higher skill and increased salary opportunities for women.